As someone who is relatively new to the world of SEO, I have been reading a lot around the fundamentals of the subject, and the processes involved in successful SEO campaigns. Beginning in SEO can be quite daunting when considering all of the factors that are involved. This is why I would like to share what I have learnt with you, so without further ado, here are my top 8 SEO basics to optimise your site!
Something to keep in mind before we begin is that ultimately there is not one magic quick fix that can help your website rank higher, and it won’t happen overnight. SEO is a complex process and there are many rules and factors that need to be taken into consideration. There are also a number of myths and misconceptions (we’ve collected them in our SEO Myths piece by the way) around what is considered to be best practice, the basics I share below and are ones that I feel are fundamental.
1. Optimise titles and descriptions
Firstly, title tags are a short meaningful description of the content for each page on your website. They are displayed at the top of your web browser window and are often used as a preview snippet on search engine results pages (SERPs).
This has a big part to play in SEO particularly with Google, yet is also important in terms of social sharing. It is important that each page title is unique and is accurately aligned with the page content – this is critical for both SEO and user experience.
Meta descriptions are a short description of what a particular page is about and along with title tags these should be unique to each page on your website. An ideal meta description should be between 150 – 160 characters to avoid text cut off when displayed on search engines – you will want to be concise and informative sparking the reader’s interest. Meta descriptions do not directly influence rankings on search engines, however they do encourage user’s to click on your search result.
By creating a compelling description with the use of important keywords it can help to improve the click-through rate of the given webpage. In order to maximise click-through rates it is important to know that Google amongst other search engines display keywords in bold when the terms match the search query. However it is important not to overuse keywords, keep in mind that your content should flow naturally. Below you can see a SERP preview displaying title tags and Meta descriptions.
2. Make your site mobile friendly
Another basic SEO factor to consider is making sure your website is mobile/user friendly and optimised for mobile browsing. This is vital as mobile marketing statistics show that more and more users are using their mobiles/smartphone devices to search online each day.
I am sure you are already aware but in April this year Google decided to roll out a mobile friendly update. Google decided to reward those with mobile friendly sites by boosting their rankings in mobile search results. Google insists that text is readable, without the need for tapping and zooming. For platforms such as WordPress, Wp-touch pro is a useful plugin offering mobile optimised themes. The plugin also has additional mini plugins useful for your site such as responsive images, which leads on to my next point.
3. Optimise your images
The use of visuals and images is a great way to enhance a user’s experience.
- Text browsers and other web user agents are unable to see images. Using alt text or text near your images will enable text browsers/web user agents to understand what your image contains.
- When labelling your file names avoid using generic names such as image.jpg. Instead use relevant keywords to describe what your image is displaying for example, womens-nike-clothing.jpg.
- The smaller your image (in KB) the faster your website will be – Kraken is a tool enabling you to reduce your image size without compromising quality.
4. Use internal links well
Internal links are another factor to consider for SEO optimisation on your site. Internal links are those links that direct users to other pages within your website. Make sure the pages relate in some way; for example, if you wrote a blog post on cardio exercise, you could link this back to a previous post about warm up techniques.
Internal links can be useful for SEO however, many are still using this incorrectly.
Here are a few SEO tips for internal links:
- DO NOT create links purely for the purpose of SEO – links should only be used for the purpose of site navigation, and make sure you do not overuse them.
- Make sure that text within the links are descriptive – use target keywords from the page you are linking to within the anchor text. By using the target key phrase it helps Google to identify the relevance of the page.
- Don’t use terms such as, ‘click here’ or ‘read more here’ because search engines use the text in a link to help identify what the link is about.
Tip: When running a blog, every couple of weeks go back and link newer posts from older posts. It’s not an easy task to do especially if you have a lot of posts, but it can be a very good tactic for showing your readers different content on your website.
5. Make sure URLs are user friendly
A URL is the unique address of a web page, they can be seen in the address bar of your web browser. A page URL is one of the most important parts of your website when looking to make your website user-friendly and SEO compliant. It consists of a string of words usually ending with .co.uk/.com/.org or .net. URLs should be simple and easy to understand, as well as mimic the structure of your website.
How to optimise URLs:
- Make sure URLs are easy to understand, not only for search engines but also for users
- Don’t use capital letters within URLs (they can be case sensitive), this will avoid causing confusion to visitors and search engines
- Don’t use lengthy URLs that include irrelevant words
- Use hypens (-) to separate words within an URL
Still unsure of what your URLs should look like? I have included a couple of good examples below, these follow all the steps that I have mentioned above to optimise your URLs.
6. Create sitemaps
A sitemap is a list of all public facing pages and posts on your website, search engines use this as a way to understand the structure of your site. There are two types of site maps – an xml sitemap and an html sitemap.
XML Sitemap – created for search engines
An xml sitemap is submitted to Google, Bing and other search engines. To create and also update your sitemap it could be easier to install a plugin, however this is dependent on the platform you are using.
Here are the key steps you need to consider when creating an XML sitemap:
- Identify your most important content pages for search. For example, you can ignore shopping cart pages and user login pages
- Validate your sitemap using a tool such as Google’s sitemap generator
- Post the sitemap file to your website, the root directory is the perfect place to put it – helping to cut out the issue of invalid URLs. Once you have posted your sitemap you should update your robots.txt file with reference to the location of your sitemap by adding a line to the end of your robots.txt file similar to the following sample: Sitemap: http://www.example.com/sitemap.xml
- Register your sitemap with Google and Bing, the best way to do this is through Google Search Console
- Update and repost your sitemap file as site content changes
HTML Sitemap – created for users
An html sitemap is created to enable the user to browse through your content more easily. The sitemap should include links to all posts and important pages on your site. It is also possible to group posts in terms of author and category etc.
7. Setup Search Console and Google Analytics
Google’s Search Console tool is where you register and submit your website index. This is your central point of tracking valuable information about your site.
- It is a way of telling search engines about your site – for example submitting your sitemap
- It enables you to get feedback on your indexed pages
- Enables you to get notified about possible problems such as issues that restrict your content from being crawled
- Identify the amount of internal links you have directing to your site
- And much more…
Google Analytics is also a great tool, in fact it is one of my favourites. The tool enables you to find out a number of factors about your site, helping you to identify where you can make improvements (there is always room for improvement):
- Track how visitors are directed to your website for example, directly through your URL or from particular search terms
- How much time is spent on particular pages
- How many pages are viewed per visit
- How many are returning or new visitors
- Measure the impact of mobile engagement
There are endless benefits.
8. Take care of your content
All the factors I have mentioned above are all very important. However, don’t forget about the content – content is still key. Your content should be of a high quality and original – it should always answer what the user is looking for.
How do I know if my content is good?
There are two simple ways in which you can identify if your content is useful to others. Firstly, you can look at your analytics package – this will enable you to find out how much time is spent on a particular page. Also checking your social media shares on Facebook and Twitter etc, this is a good way to understand what type of content users are looking for and enjoy reading enough to share.
Remember that promoting and sharing your content is just as important as creating it. After-all, what’s the point in having great content if no-one can see it?
How to create good content?
Firstly, there are no particular guidelines that need to be followed in order to write good content. Content will vary depending upon the topic you are writing about. However, there are certain things that you can consider when writing content. I have included the factors which I feel are the most important below:
- It is crucial to stick to the point you are hoping to make with your content
- Tell the user what the page is about with a short snappy introduction – make the user want to continue reading.
- Check content for typos, spelling and grammatical errors.
- Make sure your content has structure and flows well.
- Provide links in your content to other pages within your site (for extra information) – only do this where appropriate, not simply for the sake of it.
- Show reference to research or case studies to back up what you are suggesting – again only do this where appropriate.
How long should my blog post be?
What type of content should I create? – this is quite a common question. The point is that there is no set limit – the length is dependent on the type of post and the topic.
All in all this is where the quality vs quantity scenario comes in – it is much better to write a quality post without feeling that you have to meet a certain criteria with the word count. This is a key difference between print and online content; where once space for content was at a premium, when printed in a document, online content is not restricted to a pre-defined length. Content should answer what the user is looking for, it’s quite easy to start rambling but if the post is not to the point it is potentially more likely to be ignored.
Create fresh content
Having fresh content will give search engine bots a reason to come back and crawl your site more often. Alongside this it will also encourage users to come back and browse your site. Be sure to keep your content original, avoid posting similar content on your blog or website for the sake of posting.
You should always keep SEO to the front of your mind and always remember to follow best practices. Ignoring the basics of SEO will leave your site’s groundwork messy, preventing you from maximising your full revenue opportunities.
Are there any other SEO practices that you feel are important? Please share your suggestions in the comments, I would like to hear them.